Other Problems Elsewhere

It is very possible that the president of the United States is a criminal. And it is very possible that his criminality made him president. Prosecutors made clear in a sentencing memo for his personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, that Trump himself had directed Cohen to break campaign finance laws. There’s more – Trump’s efforts to build a tower in Moscow during the election and his campaign’s ties with Russians during the campaign. There is the question of obstruction of justice, which has already been proven by Trump’s own actions, and there are all the people in Trump’s circle who have been charged with or have admitted to lying about any number of things, including their contacts with Russians. And there’s more and more every day. This will not end well, but there is the rest of the world. Others have their own problems. Sometimes they can top ours.

Tanya Gold, a writer for The Spectator, notes this from across the pond:

I wonder if this is what the Black Death was like. People wandering around with donkeys, crying, “Bring out your dead!” and painting crosses on walls, which was, I guess, like a medieval Twitter.

Everyone I know is either a Brexit Denier – “It’s not happening,” they say. “We’ll have a People’s Vote! Another referendum! We’ll win this time!” – or a Brexit Apocalypticist – “It’s happening. We are doomed. Hold my hand and run toward the blast.”

The only people who are hopeful are the far-right supporters of a “hard Brexit” who marched through the streets of London on Sunday protesting Prime Minister Theresa May’s “betrayal” and carrying her effigy. They didn’t hang it. Presumably, that can wait.

Brexit is the issue. In June 2016 those folks voted to leave the EU – the vote was close but the rural xenophobes won the day, over the urban and urbane city folks – the bankers and information technology sophisticates with their fancy degrees and whatnot. The Russians may have stirred the pot over there, as they had over here, with their odd stories on social media   – “them there foreigners are ruining your life” and all that – but the deed was done. Britain would toss all the foreigners out and not deal with the EU at all anymore.

That was stupid. May worked out a deal – not total isolation – but no one liked that:

On Monday, the real Mrs. May postponed the long-planned vote in Parliament on her Brexit deal, the one she spent 20 months negotiating with the European Union and the last three weeks trying (and failing) to sell to the British public and Parliament. What’s next? Apparently, she will go to Brussels on her knees, begging for further concessions. She doesn’t know how to implement the will of the people, if the will of the people – or at least the people who hold her political future in their hands – is suicide.

It feels like a good time to mention that the Palace of Westminster is falling apart. The building itself is a rotting construct, honoring an imagined past and – just for fun – built on a marsh. What does that remind you of, eh? It was not much publicized, for obvious reasons, but on June 23, 2016, the day of the Brexit referendum itself, the basement was flooded with sewage. It was rainfall and a high tide, they said, but I know better. Metaphor, like the gods, must be heard.

Tanya Gold is a lively writer, but a serious one too:

No one here knows what will happen next – an election, another referendum, a new deal, a departure from the European Union with no deal at all. The last 18 months have felt like political hell; now, I fear we will look back at them as the time when things were sane.

I see Brexit as a progressive disease, like alcoholism. What you think gives you hope… is killing you. I wouldn’t have said this at any time since 1940 but it feels apt now. Pray for us.

That might not do any good, as this was a mess:

British Prime Minister Theresa May announced Monday that she would delay a vote on the withdrawal agreement she negotiated with the European Union, rather than face a devastating loss in Parliament that would have threatened both her Brexit deal and her political survival.

“If we went ahead and held the vote tomorrow, the deal would be rejected by a significant margin,” May conceded to a packed chamber in the House of Commons.

Nearly 100 members of her own Conservative Party had signaled they would vote against her half-in, half-out version of Brexit. Such a defeat would be hard for any prime minister to survive, but more so for May, who failed to win a majority for the Tories after a disastrous election campaign in 2017.

On Monday in Parliament, May instead chose the jaw-dropping humiliation of acknowledging the likely loss before it happened.

This wasn’t working, because there was no solution here:

She insisted she had negotiated the best possible Brexit deal, but she agreed to return to Brussels this week and “do all that I can to secure the reassurances this House requires to get this deal over the line and deliver for the British people.”

But by delaying the vote, May also prolonged the uncertainty over Brexit – whether, come March, there is her deal, no deal or no Brexit at all.

It doesn’t matter, as this will not go well:

Neither May nor the Europeans want a no-deal Brexit, although some hardline Brexiteers say they are willing to suffer short-term pain for long-term ­independence. Economists have predicted that a no-deal “doomsday scenario” could result in food and medicine shortages; paralyzed trade and transport, including grounded aircraft; and a possible recession in Britain.

Slate’s Josh Keating adds a bit more:

The delay reflects May’s acknowledgement that she doesn’t have the votes for the controversial deal she negotiated with Brussels, which would keep Britain in a customs union, at least for a time, with the EU, in order to avoid the imposition of a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. The deal is opposed not only by the opposition Labour and Scottish National parties but also by her coalition partners, the Northern Irish Democratic Unionist Party and many hardline Brexiteer members of her own Conservative Party. Both Labour and the Scottish National Party have suggested that a motion of no confidence in May’s government could be put forward this week.

But there will be a vote no matter how unwise:

According to the Guardian, “the vote could take place next week or even be delayed until early January, although this would allow less time for the ensuing Brexit legislation to be passed through parliament before 29 March,” when Britain is due to leave the EU, deal or no. Time is running short, and the delay raises the likelihood of a “no-deal” Brexit in which Britain would revert to trading with Europe under WTO rules, a prospect that experts have warned would have dire consequences for the British economy. The pound fell 0.5 percent against the dollar Monday in response to the news.

And there’s the issue of Ireland being part of the EU in most matters of trade:

The delay will give May some more time to lobby reluctant lawmakers, and she has also suggested that the so-called “Northern Ireland backstop” could be modified. An EU spokesperson insisted, however, that the deal on the table is “the best and only deal possible” and would not be renegotiated. Given the knottiness of the Irish border problem, it’s not quite clear what an alternative arrangement would even be.

And there’s this:

No one actually knows what the rules are because no one has ever done this before. The EU has already compromised more than many expected in agreeing to the customs union arrangement. After insisting for months that “Brexit means Brexit,” May also agreed to a much closer future economic relationship between Britain and the EU than was anticipated. Both sides also seem to be making quiet preparations for postponing Brexit past March, after long insisting that the deadline was nonnegotiable.

At the moment, a host of scenarios – including a no-deal Brexit, some alternative compromise on the Irish question, a delayed Brexit, a new “people’s vote” referendum on the deal, and an ouster of May leading to who knows what – all seem entirely plausible.

Americans will have to decide what to do with or about Donald Trump. Americans have it easy. The Washington Post’s Matt O’Brien sees this:

Even if you’re not a fan of British humor, it’s hard not to laugh a little at Brexit.

Sure, there have been bigger disasters in history, but it’s rare to find dumber ones. The whole idea, after all, behind Britain leaving the free-trade zone that is the European Union was for it to “take back control” from the bureaucrats in Brussels so that it could… make its own free-trade deal with the European Union? Well, that and keep immigrants out.

The problem, though, is that the EU links the free movement of goods to the free movement of people. It won’t give you one without the other. So the only way Brexit wouldn’t be a worse deal than the one Britain already has would be if the deal wasn’t really Brexit in any meaningful sense of the word – which is to say if it was just a fig leaf that kept Britain’s current relationship with the EU more or less intact while giving it a new name.

This may be the Monty Python skit about the dead parrot but this is dead serious:

In case all of this wasn’t already absurd enough, there’s another layer to it: Northern Ireland. It’s the only part of the United Kingdom that shares a land border with an EU country, and the fact that you can’t tell that – there are no checkpoints or barriers between the two – is one of the great achievements of the peace process of the past 25 years. Why does that matter? Well, a “hard” Brexit that pulled Britain out of the EU’s customs union would end all that. Everything that moved between Ireland and Northern Ireland would suddenly need to be inspected to make sure that it complied with the other’s different rules and regulations – which, of course, is a nonstarter for the Northern Irish, whose votes British Prime Minister Theresa May needs to maintain her slim parliamentary majority.

The May government has agreed to what’s known as an “Irish backstop” that would keep all of Britain in the EU’s customs union for an indefinite period of time. The idea being that Northern Ireland needs to remain in to prevent a hard border from being set up between it and Ireland, and that the rest of the United Kingdom needs to then stay in as well to prevent an economic border from being set up between it and Northern Ireland. In the meantime, Britain and EU would work on hammering out a new deal that would supposedly resolve all of these contradictory issues – taking Britain out of the EU’s customs union without taking Northern Ireland either out of it or out of the United Kingdom’s customs union – at a later date.

What? Don’t try to figure that out:

This compromise isn’t good enough for the biggest Brexit backers in May’s Conservative Party, who really believed that the only reason they couldn’t have their cake and eat it too was that Brussels wouldn’t let them. And so now it’s up to her to try to come up with a solution to a problem that doesn’t have one.

The simple story is that a win for British sovereignty – a hard Brexit – would be a loss not only for the British economy but also for Irish integration. And while they might be willing to make that first trade-off, that’s not the case for the second.

Which is why it wouldn’t be surprising if all this ended the most fitting way possible: with another vote that gives them a chance to pretend that none of this ever happened.

That actually might work:

The European Union’s highest court ruled Monday that Britain could unilaterally reverse its decision to split from the 28-nation political bloc, a verdict that gave a boost to anti-Brexit campaigners. The decision, which came a day before the British Parliament was scheduled to vote on Prime Minister Theresa May’s deeply unpopular Brexit deal, made clear Britain has the ability to reverse itself any time before the March 29 deadline to leave the European Union. A legal question had arisen about whether a reversal would require the consent of the other 27 EU members, but the binding decision made clear that little stands in London’s way – should it want to return to the EU fold.

Nope, it’s too late for that:

The British government said in a statement the ruling did not change their plans to pull Britain out of the European Union.

“This does not change the government’s firm policy,” the statement said. “The British people gave a clear instruction to leave, and we are delivering on that instruction.”

The decision fueled demands in Britain for a second referendum that could reverse the June 2016 vote to leave the European Union….

Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, who has warned she could try to lead Scotland out of the United Kingdom and back into the European Union, also embraced the ruling.

But this is take-it-or-leave-it:

The European Commission said the ruling changed little about its Brexit planning. Mina Andreeva, a European Commission spokeswoman, said the European Union was still planning for Britain’s membership to end next March.

This puts America’s issues with Donald Trump in perspective, and meanwhile, in France there was this:

French President Emmanuel Macron announced late Monday that he will increase France’s minimum wage by 100 euros – about $114 – a month and slash overtime and some pension taxes in an effort to curb a wave of violent protests that have rocked the country for nearly a month and undermined the authority of his government.

The announcement, delivered in a brief televised address, came as Macron faced the most significant crisis of his young presidency: the so-called yellow vest movement, a popular uprising that began as a reaction to a carbon tax that the president had put in place but that quickly became a revolt against Macron himself, who is widely perceived as out of touch with the concerns of ordinary people.

Macron did what he could:

Although he roundly condemned the recent violence, Macron acknowledged people have a right to be angry. “I don’t forget that there is an anger, an indignation, which many of the French can share,” he said, adding that he wants to declare a “state of economic and social emergency” to address their needs.

“We want a France where one can live proudly off one’s work,” he said.

The protesters took their name from the high-visibility yellow safety vests many wear in a literal and figurative attempt to be visible. On Monday night, Macron made them the focus, seeking in an uncharacteristically short, direct speech to emphasize that he had taken the problems of the vulnerable into account – the single mothers who cannot afford child care, the retirees who work their entire lives only to struggle in old age.

“I saw them,” he said.

But he’s not good at this:

This was a crisis triggered, in no small part, by language. A number of protesters in Paris and provincial France told the Washington Post that it was Macron’s personality – but especially his words – that drove them to the streets. They especially resented what they considered his disdain for the working class, citing several remarks he had made since his election in 2017.

In June, Macron, a former investment banker, referred to welfare spending as “crazy money.” In September, he told a young, unemployed gardener that it should be easy to find another job. “You just need to go and get them,” he said. “Honestly, hotels, cafes, restaurants – if I walk across the street, I will find you something.”

This was a replay of June 2016 in England’s Green and Pleasant Land – the rural xenophobes versus the urban and urbane city folks – and the Russians were there too:

The Kremlin on Monday denied involvement in the “yellow vest” protests that have rocked France, after reports that Russia-linked social media accounts are waging a campaign to encourage unrest.

Britain’s the Times reported Saturday that hundreds of accounts linked to Russia have “sought to amplify” the protests. They had posted photographs purporting to show injured protesters, the newspaper reported, but which were in fact taken at other events, citing analysis from a cybersecurity company.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told journalists on Monday that Russia “considers all that is happening exclusively the domestic affairs of France.”

“We have not interfered and we don’t plan to interfere in the domestic affairs of any country including France,” he said.

Reports to the contrary were “nothing but slander”, he added.

Max Boot doubts that:

Weekend after weekend, French President Emmanuel Macron is dealing with sometimes violent protests from a populist movement known as the gilets jaunes (yellow vests). The protesters were galvanized by a plan to raise gasoline taxes, but they are still out in the streets even though the gas tax increase has been suspended. Now they’re demanding, among other things, default on the public debt, exit from the European Union and NATO, and less immigration.

The Russians were there:

BuzzFeed reports that the “yellow vests” emerged out of “anger groups” that popped up on Facebook to channel the grievances of “fed up” rural, working-class French people – the Gallic version of President Donald Trump’s deplorables or the tea party. Just as in the United States, their online propaganda included a great deal of misinformation. Activists circulated a picture of cars stranded on a highway, claiming it showed German motorists who had abandoned their cars to protest fuel taxes. In fact, the picture was likely of a traffic jam in China. Another popular meme claimed that a 2016 government decree had invalidated the French constitution and that everything that has happened since, including the gas tax, is illegitimate.

And now it all fits together:

Macron has angered the left by cutting taxes on the wealthy, slashing regulations and curbing the power of unions. You would think this would have made him the darling of the right, which applauds Trump for similar moves.

But Macron’s desire to curb global warming (the goal of the higher gas tax), his support for the European Union and NATO, his unabashed elitism (he once worked for the Rothschild investment bank, a bogeyman for anti-Semites) and his clashes with Trump have made him a target of the far right too.

Trump himself applauded the protests, falsely claiming they are chanting, “We want Trump.”

That’s was a bad idea:

French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian on Sunday urged President Trump to stop interfering in France’s affairs after Trump made various claims about why protests were taking place in the country.

“We do not take domestic American politics into account and we want that to be reciprocated,” Le Drian told LCI television, according to Agence France-Presse. “I say this to Donald Trump and the French president says it too: leave our nation be.”

Good luck with that:

On Saturday, Trump said the Paris climate agreement wasn’t “working out so well for Paris” and used the protests taking place in the country to justify his argument.

“Protests and riots all over France,” Trump said. “People do not want to pay large sums of money, much to third world countries (that are questionably run), in order to maybe protect the environment.”

He also asserted that protesters were chanting “We Want Trump!” in the streets, the second time he’s shared a tweet with that claim.

Ah, no:

Le Drian rejected Trump’s claim that demonstrators were shouting “We Want Trump” during the protests, saying that “the yellow vest demonstration was not protesting in English, as far as I know.”

He also added that most Americans did not support Trump’s decision to pull the U.S. out of the Paris climate deal.

There is the rest of the world. Others have their own problems. Sometimes they can top ours and we should stay out their problems. There’s more than enough to do here.


About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
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